Illegal activity in medical marijuana industry discussed at hearing

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Illegal activity within the medical marijuana industry was among the topics discussed at the recent interim study hearing at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

"This is very near and dear to my heart in Northwest Oklahoma," District Attorney Chris Boring shared. "It's bad. I hope that you guys can find some solutions and help us deal with this problem."

Lori Carter, deputy attorney general for public policy, presented information regarding the prosecution of illegal activities within the medical marijuana industry.

"Our multi county grand jury is working with local law enforcement and state law enforcement to address these problems that we've been hearing about from all the county commissioners, residents, legislators, particularly in rural Oklahoma," Carter said. "We can prosecute those complex criminal cases because of our multi jurisdictional authority. So we're working with OBN, OMMA, other law enforcement entities to tackle that problem."

According to Carter, crimes accompanying the now legal marijuana industry include fentanyl trafficking, human trafficking and prostitution, as well as other crimes.

"We are focusing on those as well as trying to keep everything else within the law," Carter said. "Our second role really is advising on policy."

Paul Christian, Oklahoma Highway Patrol, reported Oklahoma has had an approximate increase of 121 to 132 percent in illegal marijuana seizures since 2018.

"We believe that within three to five years, Oklahoma is going to be the number one producer and exporter of marijuana in the nation," Christian said. "Unfortunately there are a lot of sick people in our state and a lot of medical marijuana cards on the highway."

Christian said troopers are seeing marijuana on nearly every traffic stop and they're frustrated they can't do anything about it.

Josh Cockroft, senior director of government affairs for the Oklahoma Association of Realtors, said brokers and agents across the state are sharing the same concerns."In rural areas of the state (is) where you'll have entities come in and buy large portions of land and severely affect both in the short term and we believe in the long term property value," Cockroft said.

Sarah Gibson, general council Oklahoma Water Resource Board, presented the impact on water regarding the usage of ground water being used for medical marijuana grow facilities.Each plant can use up to six gallons of water per day, according to Mark Woodward, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics (OBN) public information officer, who presented information on the dark side of medical marijuana industry.

"Oklahoma has replaced California and Colorado as the number one source day for illegal high quality marijuana in this country," Woodward said. "They're already saving well over $100,000 in licensing fees just by moving their operations here."

With over 8,000 grow businesses are registered, Oklahoma has become the leading state in the nation in medical marijuana due to our lower cost in licenses fee, cost of land and loose regulations, according to Woodward.

"A lot of them are getting what are called burner devices, even if they get the license they know it's just gonna be temporary," Woodward said. "They're coming to Oklahoma, they're gonna grow as fast as they can before winter gets here and they're gonna get out and they're gonna make millions of dollars in the process," he added.

OBN has seen out of state marijuana sold locally, unlicensed growers, illegal Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTO) and Criminal Money Laundering Organization (CMLO).

The more complex organizations coming out of China, Mexico, Bulgaria and all over Eastern and Western Europe are growers who are licensed, do everything right and don't draw attention to themselves, according to Woodward.

"They will look like the poster child when you go out to inspect," Woodward explained. "They do everything right but 100% of the product is being moved on to the illicit market. We cannot trace the single plant for them for that went to anybody who's legally allowed to have."

Woodward also shared information regarding the labor trafficking that is occurring in the industry.

"These people are desperate for work and a lot of them are in the country illegally, are happy to have a job and they don't even know they're coming to Oklahoma," Woodward said. "Most of the time they say they're they're perfectly happy with what they're doing, and they do not see themselves as a victim, so it's impossible for us to file human trafficking charges."

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